GamersInfo.net: You've been a part of this industry for longer than most of your peers. Back in the days of dial-up did you ever think that you would be seeing games with subscriber numbers in the millions?
Mark Jacobs: Yeap, but everybody thought I was insane. I've always believed that this day would come, but to be truthful, I thought it would come sooner.
GamersInfo.net: How has this massive inflation of a user base affected the way you have to operate in the industry?
Mark Jacobs: The biggest change is that we are no longer being seen as a niche part of the game industry and people actually take my calls when I try to speak to them about projects. Ten years ago most publishers wouldn't even speak to us, at least not seriously. Year after year we heard the same thing (both pre-Mythic and post-DAoC), "Our market research shows that there is only a small number of people who will pay to play online games!" This was followed up by the equally absurd "Our market research shows that there are only a small number of people who will pay to play online games!" Which then led to my favorite quote "The market is saturated right now, there really isn't room for any other MMO other than UO [And then substitute EQ, DAoC, etc.]!"
GamersInfo.net: The budgets for video games have been ballooning for years, and are about to take another huge leap with the next generation of consoles. Many have bemoaned these growing budgets as a reason for stifled creativity in the industry, how are the swelling development costs affecting you at Mythic?
Mark Jacobs: This is my least favorite effect of the boom, the budget needed to create a AAA MMORPG. I never had dreams of being given ridiculous amounts of money to make a game. I've always preferred to be more on the reasonable amount of money side of the equation.
GamersInfo.net: We live in a litigious society where two sisters can take fast food companies to court because they got fat after eating their food. How long do you think it will be before the same lawyers that found those cases turn their attention go the game industry?
Mark Jacobs: Well, our industry has already received plenty of attention from lawyers and I'm sure it will continue.
GamersInfo.net: I ask this because most MMOs are structured in a way to be especially addictive. They have open-ended game play, social reinforcement of a player's actions and tend to encourage a sedentary lifestyle.
Mark Jacobs: Well, I have to disagree with you here. First, I think that the word addictive when applied to things such as books, movies, games doesn't mean the same thing as when it is applied to things such as drugs that cause permanent physical changes to the body. A writer of a great book would not be accused of writing an "addictive" book would he? Frankly, I don't think that there is anything more sedentary then sitting in your chair and watching TV. Yet, is Hollywood being sued because cliffhanger shows or reality shows or even soap operas, are forms of entertainment that people watch every week? No, of course not. Video games are no different.
GamersInfo.net: In Asia we see players who are literally playing themselves to death, and there are numerous cases in the States of players with mental health conditions.
Mark Jacobs: And in America, we have people who become so obsessed with stars (and the characters that they are portraying) that they become stalkers. Should we ban actors/actresses, because they are so good in their roles that people forget they are simply players and not the real thing? Should we stop making films because some people get so upset over them that they cry or become depressed? One of the beautiful things about America is that we are a country where people get to express their artistic, creative, personal, political, etc., opinions/works and other people are free to agree/disagree/participate or ignore them. Nobody forces anyone to buy a video game any more than a person is forced to buy a book or watch a television program. I'm all for Rating systems that work to satisfy the legitimate concerns of parents but at the same time I also believe in the ability of individuals/companies to create great entertainment no matter whether it is a book, game, movie, etc. People do terrible and tragic things everyday. Should we ban cars because some drunken fool kills somebody else? Should we prevent all the elderly from driving because some elderly people aren't fully capable of handling a car? Should a pharmaceutical company stop making a drug because somebody decided that taking 30 of the pills instead of one was a good idea? Should we ban all high school sports because some parents and kids become so "addicted" to winning that they throw common sense, decency and fair play right out the window? A wise person once said, "people are broken" and sadly, we see the truth in that statement play out every day in the news.
GamersInfo.net: Hypothetical situation for you: Right here in my pocket, I've got a blank check. I am going to give it to you with the stipulation that you use it to make your dream game. You don't have to worry about intellectual property, sales numbers, deadlines, or anything else. All you have to do is make your dream game. Give me an idea of what I'd be paying for.
Mark Jacobs: I would want to create a world in which you always felt that you could have an affect on the big picture. A world that always felt alive to you and a world that would be ever-changing (for the better), ever-growing and always evolving. It would be a world that would transport you to different realms and even different times but it would be one that no matter when or where you were, it would seem familiar yet different.
GamersInfo.net: You've been one of the most vocal opponents to online economies and real world economies mixing. You've said that this takes away the game aspect of MMOs. But, you cannot deny there is a lot of money in it, and the true nature of the game industry is to make money. Where do you see this heading?
Mark Jacobs: Hey, I always knew that there was money to be made from these sorts of things, only a fool would deny that. But, like everything else in terms of game-making, Mythic has a choice, we can choose to participate and make some money or choose to take a stand, say no, even if it costs us money. As I've said a number of times, we have been offered numerous opportunities to share in the bounty but we have always said no. While I support the rights of any company who want to design their game(s) to take advantage of this, I cannot support any company that refuses to go along with the right of the developer to run their own game, their way, it is as simple as that.
GamersInfo.net: Give me an idea of your best-case and worst-case scenarios.
Mark Jacobs: Best case scenario is that all the item sellers get an attack of conscience and decide to follow the EULA/EUALAs of other companies and get out of the games that don't want them there. Worst case scenario is a company designs a game to support in-game item/gold/etc. selling, begins selling their own items to their own players, and then because of poor design, poor testing, etc., they then have to make major changes to the value of the items. At that point I think it is realistic to expect not only angry customers but very, very interested lawyers. That's one reason we will have nothing to do with that part of the market at the present time. I've also said that I think you can design a game that does allow and support that type of stuff but you have to be very, very careful and very, very good.
Mark Jacobs: I support a rating system for all games and from what I've heard/seen, our system can be improved. However, I also don't support calls for the banning of games from store shelves simply because the wrong type of game could be sold to a minor. To me, this is as foolish as saying you can't make R rated films because occasionally kids stick into the theaters. Could you imagine a bill passing Congress that banned all R films or even PG13 films on that basis? If the games industry had as much clout as Hollywood does on the hill, this sort of stuff wouldn't even be proposed. On the other hand, I think we need a really expansive rating system that allows parents to be informed consumers about the games that they buy for their children. I'm also for the equivalent of a V-chip in all consoles or even PCs if it came to that. Parents have a right and I think a duty to be involved in their children's lives but too many parents want to place the blame on the creators and distributors of entertainment rather than spending the time and effort and at times, pain and suffering (arguments with your kids, being seen as a bad parent) that it takes to be an involved parent.
GamersInfo.net: Is there a specific area that you feel that game developers should be addressing more in terms of either the design of their games, the content, the features or even the social impact of their games?
Mark Jacobs: No, not really. I think game developers/companies should be left to their own consciences/inspiration to create great entertainment. However, I would like to see more original and innovative games rather than the Roman Numeral games we are getting so much of these days. Same is true for licensed/brand products. I love licensed games where the material is really well suited to the medium and I don't really care for games that are only using the brand to help sales and not to make a really great game.
GamersInfo.net: Video games are being hit hard from politicians and family groups right now for their violent content. How much of this do you feel is warranted concern about desensitization versus a Luddite reaction to a new form of media? What do you think the long-term affects of this pressure will be? Do you think it will have any affect at all?
Mark Jacobs: I think I covered this above.
GamersInfo.net: What upcoming technology are you really excited about? Is there one specific thing you are looking at and thinking to yourself "Wow, this could change the way we do everything?" What is it? And how will it change things for you?
Mark Jacobs: I think this generation of consoles could have a greater impact on the game industry than any generation since their initial introduction.
If they deliver on 90% of their promise, it will have a far reaching effect on PC games as well as MMOGs.
GamersInfo.net: One last question for you. Ten years from now, where are you?
Mark Jacobs: Gad, I hope I'm not still making games. I've already been making games for over 20 years and I've never been a fan of those that stay way too long at what they do and unless I'm still really good at my job, I'd prefer to be sitting on some beach. The way the industry is going (bigger budgets, bigger titles) if it continues will be such that making major games quickly will no longer be an option. I'm way too impatient to spend four years working on a game, I want to play the game much sooner than that. :)
GamersInfo.net: Where is Mythic?
Mark Jacobs: I hope that Mythic is still one of the leading game developers in the industry (we just had our 10th anniversary) and that it is carrying on in fine form.
Mark Jacobs: I hope that the industry has grown wiser and the people that work in it have grown wiser as well.